Arts & Culture

The Loss of Multilingualism in This Generation

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In this age of globalisation, how much importance is given to English? Is it justified to let go of your mother tongue for the sake of your colonizer’s language? 

In the English Communication-Ability Enhancement Compulsory Course (AECC), as I sat cursing my life for having to study the same, a random statement by a student made me think deeply about something as basic as language. India has traditionally been a country of Multilingualism aka, a nation with a plethora of languages, ranging from the discourse of Hindi domination to the slow death of tribal languages; India is a land of languages. An average Indian has the fluency to converse in their mother tongue, their colonizer’s tongue and the apparent ‘National’ language of the country. This tradition has been prevalent through generations as families converged into different communities and castes, exchanged their languages and thus, gave birth to what we popularly call as khichdi.

Our generation is perhaps the only generation that speaks the tongue of the colonizer better than their own. The superiority complex, elitism, and classism surrounding the English language take us centuries back in the revolution of social change and diversity. The dominance of English and pursuing other foreign languages such as French, Spanish, German, and Japanese in schools run on the assumption that the student is familiar with ‘at least’ two-three languages. The dying roots of Indian languages arise because of the invisible discriminatory lines between English elitism and the regional ‘lower-class’ mentality. Sardar Patel Vidyalaya in Delhi promotes students to take up regional languages in their middle school instead of international languages. What’s the point in learning French when you cannot even understand your mother tongue?

Nouresha, a student of Kamala Nehru College whose mother tongue is Mauritian Creole and is well-versed with 4 other languages says, “Being born and bred in Mauritius, I was able to read, speak and write English, French and Hindi fluently from a young age. Sometimes people wonder how we are able to speak more than two languages, this is due to the country’s roots in a complex history of immigration and colonization. I can tell from personal experience that, be it in the business context or a social one, the ability to speak various languages fluently has never failed to attract attention, admiration, and awe.”

Gone are the days when people were well-versed with a multitude of languages and could sweep one off with their multilingualism, today, a heavy English word, would get you all the appreciation. With the rising trend of losing our language, we have given birth to, kya kehte hai, Hinglish; the perfect mixture of not having a proper command in either of the languages. The failure to communicate in a particular language, mostly a regional language is seen as an ‘achievement’ and comes with a sense of entitlement and reeks of privilege. But, the failure to communicate in English, comes with a sense of shame and feeling left out.

How ironic is it that I am writing this in English. The rise of Hinglish prevents an individual from not only trying to enhance or expand their linguistic aptitude but also makes them proud of their privilege.

Forget International languages or other regional languages, on an average, every Indian is well-versed with English as a first language and their mother tongue as a second language. How blinded are we to notice that we are going wrong? The ‘global language’ credit surely floats with English, but where does the supremacy come from? In the media industry, the prominence given to English news channels and English newspapers is unparalleled to the recognition and prominence of regional platforms.

The failure to comprehend even one language in its entirety is rather seen as a self-pity thing instead of something to be worked upon. The rate at which we are proceeding, it seems to be a close reality that the future generations would prefer Hinglish or a mixture of other languages (English + another regional language) instead of gaining proficiency in various languages. The entire point of learning diverse languages is to ‘diversify’ your skills, not create a mixture or let go of your roots.

Sarah Susan Varkey, a student of Jesus and Mary College who is proficient in 4 languages says, “I feel the invaluable cultural teachings and traditions can be transferred successfully only by learning the mother tongue; which is extremely important to preserve in the current scenario where everyone is getting influenced by the west. However, learning a foreign language provides a competitive edge in career choices. In a way, multilingualism improves knowledge of one’s own language.”

Feature Image Credits: Indian Institute of Legal Studies

Anandi Sen

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